Free and legal MP3: Abbie Barrett & The Last Date (zippy, asymmetrical rocker)

A straightforward, Kathleen Edwards-like rocker with the added zest of insistent asymmetry.

Abbie Barrett and The Last Date

“Here to Stay” – Abbie Barrett & The Last Date

Straightforward, Kathleen Edwards-like rocker with the added zest of insistent asymmetry. To begin with, listen to how the first lyric (0:13), “Build a house, they tear it down,” ends in a melodically unresolved place, which makes your ear kind of expect two full measures of instrumental counter-balance against the length of the lyric. But we only get one. Hm. This feels odd enough that it almost seems as if there’s a time signature change going on, although there isn’t. It’s asymmetrical; our ears ache for symmetry. Then, after the next lyric (“Run you to the edge of town”), we do get the full two measures of instrumental “response,” but listen now to how the drummer intrudes on the second measure (0:22) and confuses the beat for us. What’d he do that for? Even the symmetry feels asymmetrical at this point.

I could go on but it’s going to get as boring to read about as it is not-boring to listen to. One other thing to note: the verse is a rather odd 20 measures long. For reasons, again, of aural symmetry, a verse is typically eight measures long, occasionally 16. If it’s 20, they’re just messing with us. The edgy word repetition that tricks out the end of the melody, itself asymmetrical, probably had something to do with it, and in any case is an ear-catching way to finish out a verse—one of those unaccountable songwriting tricks that sounds great but you wonder how someone thought to write it that way.

“Here to Stay” has more going for it than its asymmetry, of course. I like Barrett’s voice a lot; she’s got one of those plain-spoken ways of singing that almost doesn’t sound like singing. And yet there is also, if you listen closely, a lot of oomph to her tone—a good thing, since all of those lyrical lines that end unresolved (itself another sort of asymmetry) require an unswerving voice to pull it off. I also like how the bridge takes us, around 2:40, to a tranquil clearing with an almost fugue-like ambiance, and how we then charge full-steam back into the song’s abiding stomp, without one time-signature shift. All in all this is one of those songs that might pass your ears by if you don’t stop to enter its world but is kind of a bright, tough little nugget of goodness if you give it its due.

“Here to Stay” comes from The Triples: Volume 1, released earlier this month, which is the first of three scheduled three-song EPs that Barrett and her band are set to release in relatively quick succession—an interesting alternative to a more standard full-length album. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Kinch (mesmerizing melody, with time signature tricks)

“The Economic Chastisement” – Kinch

This song has a central time-signature complication going on but it took me any number of listens to notice. Which speaks to a songwriting feat I’m particularly fond of: not merely a time-signature complication, but a complication that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself. I like when the unusual is disguised as normal. (A related trick, similarly tasty: disguising the normal as unusual.)

Basically you’ve got an ongoing three-beat rhythm regularly interrupted by one two-beat rhythm–I’m guessing two 6/8 measures followed by a 5/8, but who knows. The more interesting thing is how this asymmetry is adroitly masked. First, notice the pulse-like drumbeat, which for the first minute sounds quite literally like a heartbeat, implying a steadiness that isn’t actually there. Second, for all the implied motion in the song, the melody is focused on one note for a whole lot of the time. It gets kind of mesmerizing, particularly in combination with that cycling, just this side of comical piano vamp that kicks in at around 1:20. Another point of distraction is how the song comes to a near-complete stop during that brief, immobile chorus or bridge or whatever that is between verses. We notice that, but we don’t notice the fact that there’s no way to tap your toe to the song consistently even when the song starts moving again.

Kinch is a four-piece from Phoenix; their name is the nickname given to Stephen Daedalus by (stately, plump) Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. “The Economic Chastisement” is the title track to a three-song EP the band self-released last month. If the title carries with it the weighty suggestion that we’re all complicit in the rearing up of the so-called Great Recession, I have the feeling the band would be satisfied. They themselves are looking for no handout–the EP is available as a free and legal download on the band’s web site, as is their entire first full-length CD, released last year. “These songs are meant to be shared,” the band writes. “Please feel free to send them to anyone you like.” It’s a different kind of stimulus package.